Earlier this year, I visited Scotland right after a trip to Berlin. I’m always nervous visiting a place that’s been touted as breathtaking because… what if it doesn’t deliver? After devouring haggis (more please!), interacting with the architecture of Edinburgh, and being humbled by the absolute beauty of the Highlands, I can safely say that this land lives up to the hype. Here are the postcards I meant to send.
My first impression of Edinburgh
I noticed a beautiful convergence of ancient and modern architecture as soon as I arrived. There was an Escher-like double level portion of the city and stunning vistas that looked infinite, yet seemed to lay within arm’s reach of the city’s buildings.
As usual, I preferred wandering through the city with few preconceptions instead of following a mapped-out itinerary. My biggest goal for the trip was to finally taste their infamous national dish: haggis. The rest, I trusted, would flow naturally.
My first plate of haggis
Sheep’s intestines! That’s all I ever heard, generally with a note of disgust, about this notorious Scottish dish. The thought made me think it’d be a squeaky, chewy plastic-like sausage full of mush. Well, it is a sausage of sorts, but I was wrong on all the other counts. I sat down in a proper pub and asked for their traditional haggis plate proudly, as if they would pat me on the head for being a good tourist.
“D’ya want neeps an’ tatties wi’ tha’, miss?” the bright-eyed waitress asked. Yes, I nodded. Yes to all of it, I wanted to taste Scotland! I didn’t even ask what neeps and tatties were. They sounded like provocative parts of the sheep, honestly, but I was there for the full experience.
Soon enough, my platter of food came out, steaming and fragrant. It was delicious! Haggis is sausage with the casing removed after cooking, so there were no actual intestines to chew through. It was spiced lamb (yes, the offal, get over it people) mixed with oatmeal, yielding an incredibly satisfying texture, sort of like al dente pasta with earthy ground meat that I could roll around on my tongue.
You can’t get the real thing in the States, so get it if you go to Scotland. It’s absolutely worth it!
Visiting St. Giles’ Cathedral
From afar, I spied the open cupola of St. Giles’ Cathedral and loved it. It was light and airy and so intricately carved that it resembled garlands of flowers that had suddenly turned to stone. It became my true North for the entirety of my stay: I sought out a glimpse of it wherever I was in the city.
One day, when my friend and I finally ventured into the cathedral, the atmospheric sounds of a choir surrounded us. The singers’ voices were so pure and open that the air around me felt lighter, as if I might start floating without its weight to hold me down.
Bright clear sunlight poured in through stained glass windows, spilling vibrant colors everywhere, as if I’d entered a painting at the moment of its creation. Enveloped in this aural and visual enchantment, I wandered into all the tiny alcoves along the perimeter and drank in the carved wood walls and ceilings of the Thistle Chapel within.
Climbing the Black Tower
Large, forboding, and ominously black against the bright blue sky, the Scott Monument (but forever known as the Black Tower in my mind) looked like the skeletal remains of some ancient architectural dinosaur. I climbed up steps that curved around and around inside the narrow tower, gasping at the view (and at the steep climb) before realizing there were three more levels to ascend.
Each section was increasingly claustrophobic in the rapidly narrowing staircase and each viewing balcony progressively smaller. The result, at the top, where there was barely room to scrape one’s body between the curved stone wall of the tower and the railing, was a bottleneck of tourists trapped at the top with no way to descend while people kept filing up those tiny, steep steps.
The (literally) breathtaking view of Edinburgh was worth it though, and in the end, my New Yorker attitude saved the day. I yelled down the tiny stone staircase that everyone had to start backing down to a lower level to allow us our escape, and luckily, they complied.
Exploring the Highlands
Speaking of escapes, my friends and I decided to drive up into the Highlands for a day to dazzle our city dweller minds with natural wonders. We sampled roadside beef patties, squealed at baby lambs (all tiny balls of white wool teetering on impossibly thin black legs along bright green fields with constantly surprised expressions on their little faces), and gasped as our car climbed higher and higher on the road around a mountain range, each turn revealing new unimaginable vistas.
There is no way to capture the vast beauty of the Highlands. There was just the humbling realization that we would be an invisible speck, possibly mistaken for the shadow of the leaf of a tree, to anyone gazing down on this land from up high.
It was so large that my mind could not contain it, and when I accepted this fact and stopped straining to remember it all, the wide blue of the sky and the infinite shades of green and rust red of the earth filled my skull, projected upon the interior like the most wondrous film.